Washington, July 25 : Scientists, using the Hubble Space Telescope, have found the largest sample of very distant galaxies seen to date: ten promising candidates thought to lie at a distance of 13 billion light-years.
By using the gravitational magnification from six massive lensing galaxy clusters, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has provided scientists with this observation.
Some of the newly found magnified objects are dimmer than the faintest ones seen in the legendary Hubble Ultra Deep Field, which is usually considered the deepest image of the Universe.
By combining both visible and near-infrared observations from Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) and Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS), scientists searched for galaxies that are only visible in near-infrared light.
They uncovered 10 candidates believed to lie about 13 billion light-years away (a redshift of approximately 7.5), which means that the light gathered was emitted by the stars when the Universe was still very young - a mere 700 million years old.
According to Johan Richard, from the California Institute of Technology, these candidates could well explain one of the big puzzles plaguing astronomy today.
"We know that the Universe was reionised within the first 5-600 million years after the Big Bang, but we don't know if the ionising energy came from a smaller number of big galaxies or a more plentiful population of tiny ones," he said.
"The relatively high number of redshift 7.5 galaxies claimed in this survey suggests that most of the ionising energy was produced by dim and abundant galaxies rather than large, scarce ones," he added.
This new result was only made possible with some cosmic assistance in the form of gravitational lensing that magnified the light from the distant galaxies enough for Hubble to detect them.
A firm confirmation of their distance was beyond even the capabilities of the 10-meter Keck telescope and must await powerful future ground-based telescopes.